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Political Powers Struggle With America's Biggest Power Outage Ever

Aired August 15, 2003 - 16:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: Political powers struggle with America's biggest power outage ever.

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (R), NEW YORK CITY: Power for many of New Yorkers won't be restored until late in the day.

GOV. GEORGE PATAKI (R), NEW YORK: Where did this happen? And how did it happen? We are demanding these answers.

ANNOUNCER: How do blacked-out cities from New York to Detroit look by light of day? We're plunged into the latest developments and what may happen next.

For many powerless people, time stood still. How well did they keep their cool stuck in the heat, at the airport, on a train, or in traffic?

Now, live from Washington, JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS.


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks for joining us. I'm John King, Judy is off this week.

About 24 hours later, the initial shock and fear generated by the Blackout of 2003 are fading as the lights continue to come back on. But now, Americans are beginning to ask some tough questions about why the system failed so miserably and how it can be fixed.

There is a political debate underway here in Washington as well. President Bush says this is a wake-up call that the country's electrical grid needs to be modernized. Mr. Bush is speaking this hour in California. If he addresses the blackout, we will take you there live.

Many officials, though, especially in the affected areas focusing on the hear and now as people in the blackout areas try to get back to business as usual. They're not there yet.

In New York at least half of the city has power, again. But officials still warn rolling blackouts are quite possible. And heading into the evening rush hour, the subway is still closed, many traffic lights still out. At three blackout-related deaths have been reported in the affected areas reaching north to Canada and west to Ohio and Michigan.

The water pumping system is out in Cleveland. Michigan's governor has order speedier gasoline deliveries to the Detroit area where fuel pumps were shut down.

Airport delays are reported all across the nation, in Canada and even in Europe.

Now we go live to the area most affected, New York City. CNN's Deborah Feyerick is at Penn Station. Deb, 24 hours later, how's everybody doing?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, everybody's holding up as best they can. I'll tell you it was about 24 hours that we all began tickling out of buildings, realizing that the power had failed.

And I want to show you, it may not seem like a big deal, but that traffic light is now on for the first time in almost 24 hours. that means that electricity here in this area seems to have been restored. I'm looking over at the post office. Lights on there, lights that went off the second that the power -- blackout hit us.

Now inside Penn Station it is extremely hot there. It's about 90-some degrees here, it's about ten degrees hotter in there. So people are still waiting for their trains. They're afraid that if they leave, they won't here their trains called, and that means they won't be able to get home, won't be able to off on vacation and won't be able to go visit family as they had intended to.

One man said that because they didn't know when the power was going to come back on, he thought I might as well go to Washington. Why wait it out in New York?

One of those women, though, who really bravely waited waved this out, Jo Arsenault, you came in to actually go to work. How come?

JO ARSENAULT, NYC COMMUTER: I just didn't think that it could be out, the power, for a whole day. So I got on the bus at 6:00 this morning. Should have known because I was the only one on the bus, came to work, waited outside the building for hours and hours and have just been here all day waiting for the power to come back up.

FEYERICK: Were you able to hear any of the information saying that power was not yet restored? Or were you sort of acting blindly in some respect?

ARSENAULT: Yes, you're absolutely blind. But the funny thing was there were lights on. Fifth Avenue was OK. It's just where were. I'm on Third and 51st, no power all day long. So it's been crazy. Yes, you're in the dark.

FEYERICK: Now you've got your bag, you're heading off on vacation. What do you think your prospects are of taking off on time?

ARSENAULT: Haven't heard, except the for signs at the hotels that say the airports are just delayed. So I'm hoping by 8:00 tonight, everything will be fine. I'll be on my way to Spain!

FEYERICK: All right, well good luck and bon voyage, we hope.

Again, a lot people also are going to see how long everything really takes to get back to normal, John. The subways, for example, even when electricity is restored, we are told by transit workers that it could take as long as eight hours because the subway tracks still have been to be cleared. Sewage that backed up because of the power failure, that will have to be removed from the subways, and then test trains have to go.

Also, food. A lot of stores are going to have to throw out a lot of food because they lost all refrigeration. And so people right now tallying up just what they have lost because of this blackout -- John.

KING: And, Deb, when you talk to people on the streets as you've been doing for about 24 hours now, is that what they're worried about? Here in Washington already finger pointing, already calls for investigations, already demands to update the power grid and the like.

I assume most people on the street, may they'll worry about that Monday or Tuesday. Right now they're worried about getting transportation, getting their lights?

FEYERICK: That's really an excellent assessment. People were hit very directly here. For example, folks who had planned to go home actually ended up sleeping in lobbies, sleeping at friends' houses, getting hotel rooms because they couldn't make it.

And of course there was an air of franticness just because people did want to go home and see their children. So that was very much on their minds. And right now people are just trying to stay cool because it is so brutally hot out here today. And they're just handling what they need to handle.

They haven't been able to really read newspapers or see television. The only access they've had to any sort of media is radios they were lucky to have a portable radio with them when this happened.

KING: Deborah Feyerick, on the streets of New York, thank you. And we hope you get home at some point.

Here in Washington, officials are weighing in on the blackout and, perhaps no surprise, demanding answers. House Committee Energy Commissioner Billy Townsend says he'll launch an investigation when Congress returns next month.

Democratic presidential candidate Dick Gephardt is blaming the Bush administration. He accuses the president of being, quote, "short sided" and rejecting a modernization of the power grid. President Bush says he's been talking about this for time. He said the Congress is to blame for not acting.

Amid all the blame game, one question still cannot be answered, what happened? CNN's Jeanne Meserve, our Homeland Security correspondent, trying to help us answer that question. Jeanne, 24 hours later, do we know any more?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: We know a little bit more but we certainly don't know yet what caused this to occur. A team is being put together right now to investigate the causes of the blackout.

But officials are centering their attention at the moment on what they call the Lake Erie Loop. That's a transmission line that takes power from the power on U.S. and Canadian sides of Lake Erie and transmits it in a clockwise pattern from Buffalo to Cleveland to Detroit and up to the Toronto-are and then back down to Buffalo.

According to the North American Electric Reliability Council, about 300 megawatts was flowing west to east on the loop when something happened and the flow reversed making it flow go from east to west. Officials say a power company could have violated rules or there could have been some sort of triggering event.

A couple of things have been ruled out, including cyberterrorism.


MICHAEL GENT, PRES. & CEO, NERC: As far as cyber intrusion goes, we have never -- we have logs on all of our critical facilities. They're called "intrusion detection systems" and they develop logs. and it's virtually impossible to get into a system without leaving some tracks.

You hear about how clever hackers are in covering their tracks. They can cover the tracks as to who they are, but they cannot cover their tracks as to where they've been.

So we've never seen this, despite what you may have read, and we continue to look for it.


MESERVE: No sign of physical intrusion has been found and investigators don't think there was a demand factor. Temperatures just weren't that high and there was additional power available.

We have an animation to show you that gives you an idea of how this happened. Look at this. In each one of the pulsing red marks on here represents a power plant that has gone down. And if you follow this, you can see how in the first minute, four plants went down and then more and more and more. This animation, a product of Genscape, a company which monitors power plant output for energy traders.

To many people, this cascading effect is the most disturbing facet of yesterday. The electrical grid is supposed to contain safeguards and redundancies that prevent exactly this kind of an event. Expect a raft of after action reports and Congressional hearings to examine what went wrong and why -- John.

KING: And, Jeanne, will that aftermath, according to your sources, include a look at not happened here, they say there this is not terrorism. But in the context of did the bad guys learn something here? Do they now see a vulnerability in the United States?

MESERVE: You know I asked a couple of people that and they said this hasn't been a secret for a long time, people have know that the electric power grid is something that is vulnerable to terrorism. It's likely the bad guys have taken a look at this already, although I had a couple of people wonder if the bad guys could ever do anything quite this widespread and effective -- John.

KING: Jeanne Meserve, working double duty for us today. And if you can get that answer what happened, please come on back.

MESERVE: you bet.

KING: Now the closing bell rang on Wall Street minutes ago, almost 24 hours after the massive blackout began. Today's trading session was described by one insider as, quote, "very, very quiet."

For a wrap, let's turn now to Mary Snow. She joins us in New York -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN FINANCIAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, I think that would be putting it mildly. No surprise that it was the slowest trading day of the year when all was said and done. The Dow Jones Industrial average of 7 points, the Nasdaq was up less than one point.

But today wasn't so much about stocks as symbolism. New York Stock Exchange Chairman Richard Grasso determined to open the exchange and have business as usual. You know trading was not interrupted. It had ended yesterday right before the power outage.

And Dick Grasso today saying that lessons had been learned in the aftermath of September 11 and also other power outages. And a generator kicked in last night. The New York Stock Exchange was ready to operate on the backup generators. But power had been restored at 6:00 a.m. this morning. So it was a routine opening.

However, phone service was spotty. A lot of investors taking the day off because of the power outage. So it was very slow. The atmosphere, one trader describing it as August -- a snow day in August, that is. And one of the kinds of days where you just kind of have to get through it.

But all in all, people taking in stride, very calm day. Really no big glitches at the opening and trading session is over -- John.

KING: Mary Snow on Wall Street, we hope a quiet day means they let you go home early. Take care, Mary.

Still ahead, I'll ask Connecticut Governor John Rowland how his state is coping with the blackout fallout.



BLOOMBERG: I think what we did learn what that if you prepare and if you practice and if you work out jointly the protocols of who does what when you have an emergency it does work.


KING: How well is New York's mayor responding to the crisis? And what might he have learned from his predecessors.

New Yorkers are being praised for staying clam during the power crisis, now they be reaping a reward.

And the California recall update. More stars are coming out for Arnold Schwarzenegger while Governor Davis' prospects look even dimmer.



GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The federal, state, and local authorities are working hard to get power up and running, to take care of the needs of the people. And, at the same time, we'll figure out what went wrong and we'll address it.


KING: President Bush earlier today in Santa Monica. You see the president here now live at a Bush-Cheney fund raiser in Irvine, California. If he says anything significant at all about the power blackout, any other major issues, we will go back to this event live.

And as the assessment continues here in the United States in the political debate, the blackout is also causing a bit of a headache for our neighbors to the north. Canadian politicians are already bickering over the blame. Ontario's Opposition Party says more should have been done to protect the province. Liberals and New Democrats say the government should not have relied on private firms to build power plants. But all seem to agree, the province should have had better safeguards in place.

INSIDE POLITICS continues. Stay with us.


KING: The country, the city of New York, the entire world remembers how former Mayor Rudy Giuliani was defied by September 11. Now his successor Michael Bloomberg is being tested by the blackout. Mayor Bloomberg knows well his constituents have high expectations and long memories.


KING (voice-over): In New York, mayors are made and unmade by crises.


ED KOCH, MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: Traffic is working very well and it's because you're walking.


KING: During the transit strike of 1980, Ed Koch greeted pedestrians at the Brooklyn Bridge, told them to have a martini or two and won their hearts.

John Lindsay learned a tough lesson in the blizzard of 1969, working-class Queens was left unplowed tarring the mayor as a Republican aristocrat.




KING: Rudy Giuliani careened downtown on 9/11, steadying the city and the nation.


GIULIANI: We're going to keep praying and hoping that we save as many people as possible.


KING: This blackout is Michael Bloomberg's biggest test so far. The mayor met the media soon after the lights went out, seeking to reassure a shaken city.

BLOOMBERG: There is no evidence of any terrorism whatsoever.

KING: And offer some paternal advice.

BLOOMBERG: You should drink a lot of water, you should keep your refrigerator doors closed, you should open your windows.

KING: Then he hit the Brooklyn Bridge without Koch's bravado, but with the same message in mind.


KING: So far so good seem to be the early reviews of Mayor Bloomberg, though we should remind you, the power crisis is still going on. It remains to be seen how his constituents will write his performance when it's all over.

More blackout coverage when INSIDE POLITICS continues. New York gets the OK to draw power from another state, if necessary. Coming up, we'll talk to the governor of that neighboring state which has its own power problems.


KING: Connecticut also is recovering from the blackout. More than 200,000 people in the state lost power yesterday. Today, about one-tenth of them remain without electricity.

That is keeping the Governor John Rowland busy but he takes a few moments now to join us live from Hartford. Governor, thank you for joining us in INSIDE POLITICS. Been asking this question all day, I'm going to try once more. Twenty-four hours later, can they tell you with any definitiveness what happened?

GOV. JOHN ROWLAND (R), CONNECTICUT: Absolutely not. You know that it's moved from upper New York to perhaps Pennsylvania now with Ohio. So there's really two issues at work right now. One is what happened, how did it happen? And in this great technological age, how can we avoid it happening in the future?

I think the blackout of 1965, there were a lot of commitments made at that time. And here we are so many years later and we have a blackout that devastates a lot of communities. And we're all scratching our heads trying to figure out what happened.

KING: Well, Governor, one thing the president says is it's probably a wake-up call to improve the grid. He says he's been talking about this for sometime. I cover the White House, not something he talks about in his speeches all that much. But I want you to listen. His energy secretary, Spence Abraham, did back in February talk about this issue when he was testifying before Congress. Listen for one second here.


SPENCER ABRAHAM, SECRETARY OF ENERGY: We discovered that the existing grid is, in many cases, very old. And, in many cases, it isn't capable of meeting the demand levels that we project. And, frankly, it's set up in a way, not surprisingly that was largely fostered by the way electricity used to be transmitted.


KING: You are a governor now. You served in the Congress, sir. If Spence Abraham knows this, if Bill Richardson, his predecessor, says he used to say the same things, why has nothing been done?

ROWLAND: Well, we're saying it as well at the local level.

And the key issue here is balance. You have a lot nimby (ph) issues and environmentalists that don't want any power plants built anywhere in anybody's backyard. So I think the bottom line is that you want to have a balance of not having an energy plant built on every street corner, but you don't want to have a California where you've probably gone 20 years without any facilities being built.

So the obvious nature of what we're facing in this century is that, you know, everybody's has got three or four television sets, two computers in their household. We need more capacity. In Connecticut, and I'm sure in many other states, it's a congestion issue. The portion of my state that was impacted was because of our transmission capable situation. So we're going to do new transmission probably above and below ground over probably the next year or two, in cooperation with the community, in cooperation with all of the local groups and the environmental groups.

So we've achieved, I think, that magical balance of building facilities, having more transmission and being, you know, prepared for the future. Many states are still kind of turning the other way. I believe the president has been very forthright in talking about having an energy policy. He talked about it during the campaign a great deal. And I think the secretary has talked about it not only in that clip, but has been talking about it to governors. He's been testifying and encouraging us to make tough decisions. I had to veto three or four bills in the last session because the environmentalists and other groups were pushing through legislation that would have stopped power plants from being built or even staying open in my state.

KING: Well, let's assume the president is right, Governor, and this is a wake-up call and governor likes yourself, mayors like Mayor Bloomberg and governors like yourself will now raise hell and say we have to deal with this problem so that his never happens before. Who is going to pay for it?

ROWLAND: I think we need to separate the two issues.

One is, what happened, how did it happen, how could it have been avoided. And then the other issue is capacity and -- so I think we need to separate the tow. Those of us that are in governmental positions where we've got to move ahead, we'll focus on the second part. Do we have the capacity? Do we have the transmission, and do we have the safeguards built into our own particular grids?

The other kind of overlying issue is whether the federal government is going to be more involved in citing and determination of where our plants are going to be across the country. What we don't want to see is 49 more Californias. And I think that's really the major point of the wake-up call.

1965 was a wakeup call. 9/11 was a wakeup call. Yesterday was a wake up call. Thankfully, no one's been nobody hurt. Thankfully, you know, there's been no injuries or public health issues, But it really reminds us of the balance of our environment and our energy environmental needs.

KING: Governor John Rowland of Connecticut, thank you for taking time away from your urgent challenges today and we will check back in as this debate continues in the weeks and months ahead.

Start spreading the news. When INSIDE POLITICS returns, our Bill Schneider hands out the coveted "Political Play of the Week. Only this time, not something you'd expect.

Stay with us.


KING: A busy day of developments in the California recall election and that's the subject of today's "Campaign News Daily." A new poll paints an increasingly grim picture for Governor Gray Davis' bid to keep his job. The Field Poll shows 58 percent of likely voters now favor ousting Davis, up from 51 percent just a month ago. And Davis now has a 70 percent disapproval rating, the worst rating for any politician in the 56-year history of a Field Poll.


GOV. GRAY DAVIS (D), CALIFORNIA: I've taken a lot of hits lately, Larry, but the people I represent have had a harder time. This national economy has not been good for California or 47 other states and so I'm working every day to do my best to make things better


KING: Former President Clinton reportedly will be in California next month to help Governor Davis fight the recall. "The San Francisco Chronicle" quotes Mayor Willie Brown as saying Mr. Clinton will be in the city September 15 and will probably be involved in a major rally.

And Arnold Schwarzenegger's camp has more star power from the world of politics and from the entertainment industry. Former Secretary of State George Shultz will co-chair Schwarzenegger's economic team. And taking a cue perhaps from his former role on "The West Wing", actor Rob Lowe will help Schwarzenegger camp support in the Hollywood community.

INSIDE POLITICS back in 60 seconds.


KING: He's here in the studio now, but CNN's senior political analyst Bill Schneider was on a plane when the big blackout hit.

You're here now. We've got you. You're ours. Fire away.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: And you know, how people respond to adversity can be a political statement. Either they trust the system and believe that things are under control, or they don't. And by that standards, New Yorkers made a political statement this week. In fact, it was "The Political Play of the Week."


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): New Yorkers have two models of how to respond to a power blackout.

One was the great blackout of 1965. The response was calm, resilient even cheerful. The crime rate was lower than normal.

The other was the 1977 blackout -- 3700 people were arrested for looting and arson.

Here is one reason for the difference. Around the time of the 1965 blackout, two-thirds of Americans still trusted government to do the right thing. By the late 1970s, after a decade of Vietnam, Watergate and economic turmoil, the civic culture had frayed. Fewer than 30 percent trusted government. Things seemed out of control.

Which model did New Yorkers follow in the blackout of 2003?

BLOOMBERG: A very quiet city. There are no fires of any size going on at the moment. There's no criminal activity of any size taking place.

SCHNEIDER: The citizens coped. They climbed out of subways. They waited patiently to be rescued.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Guys who were working on the street, they volunteered and they yanked me up from the elevator and if they are watching, I would like to thank them.

SCHNEIDER: They walked down the stairs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Told to go home and had to walk down 28 floors. And then just had to -- it took about 3 1/2 hours to get home.

SCHNEIDER: They walked across the bridges and if they couldn't make it home, they slept on the street.

Has the civic culture been restored?

Well, trusting government is up a little over where it was in the 1970s. Public confidence went up after September 11, 2001, mostly because people needed government to protect them, particularly in New York.

Then the people of New York put their trust in government. And it worked.

This time, their calm response made a political statement: "We have trust." It was "The Political Play of the Week."


SCHNEIDER: Other cities like Detroit and Cleveland made the same statement.

California has had power blackouts too, but the result has been a very different statement there. Political trust collapsed and the people are going after the governor's head. Californians point to a failure of leadership, unlike New York after 9/11.

KING: The fallout continues in New York and the fallout continues in California.

Unfortunately, though, that's all the time we have today for INSIDE POLITICS. Have a great weekend. Please come back Monday. I'm John King.


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